Jerusalem Municipality plans to demolish 22 houses in Silwan to build archeological garden

Silwan and Al-Thori neighborhood 16 June 2010 (Photo:silwanic.net)

B’Tselem, 29 June 2010

On 21 June 2010, the Jerusalem Municipality’s Planning and Building Committee approved the municipality’s plan to demolish 22 houses in al-Bustan, a neighborhood in the center of Silwan in East Jerusalem. In recent years, the Municipality has been advancing a plan to build an archeological garden in the neighborhood. The plan calls for the demolition of a sizeable percentage of the houses in al-Bustan. The Municipality refused to discuss with the residents an alternative plan they proposed. The Municipality’s plan requires the approval of the District Planning and Building Committee, in the Ministry of the Interior.

Al-Bustan, in Silwan. Photo: Noam Preiss, B'Tselem, 19 March 2009.

Al-Bustan, in Silwan. Photo: Noam Preiss, B'Tselem, 19 March 2009.

According to the plan, one-quarter of the houses in al-Bustan (22 of the 88 houses) will be demolished and an archeological garden will be built on the land. The Municipality proposes that the residents of the houses slated for demolition should move to another area in the neighborhood, and promises to approve retroactively the other houses, which were built without permits. However, the Municipality does not own the land in these other sections, so it has no authority or ability to make this offer to the residents. The families will have to purchase land and build their houses after the Municipality demolishes their property. Even if they manage to buy the land, there is no guarantee they will be able to build there. The substantial prerequisites for obtaining building permits that the Municipality places on East Jerusalem residents regarding proof of ownership and installation of the requisite infrastructure effectively prevent lawful Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem.

One thousand persons live in al-Bustan. Most of the houses were built in the 1980s and 1990s. A few were built prior to Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. In November 2004, the Municipality began to promote a plan for an archeological garden, known as “The King’s Valley,” which will surround the Old City. The city engineer, Uri Shetrit, ordered the demolition of all the houses in the neighborhood in order to increase the area of the archeological garden. In early 2005, the Municipality began to carry out the directive. Residents of the neighborhood began to receive demolition orders and indictments were filed against them for building without a permit. At the time, the Municipality demolished two houses in al-Bustan. Currently, orders to demolish 43 structures remain in force.

Silwan and Al-Thori neighborhood 16 June 2010 (Photo:silwanic.net)

Silwan and Al-Thori neighborhood 16 June 2010 (Photo:silwanic.net)

Local residents requested the attorney general to prevent the destruction of the neighborhood. Also, international pressure was brought to cancel the plan. Subsequently, Mayor Uri Lupoliansky stated in 2005 that he had retracted the plan and that the residents would be allowed to propose a plan that meets their development needs. In August 2008, the residents presented their plan. The city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, informed them that the plan would not be considered in the immediate future, and that the Municipality was proceeding with the plan to build an archeological garden on the site.

The Municipality’s outline plan for the Old City, drafted in 1977, marked the existing structures in al-Bustan, although the neighborhood was classified as open space. Although more than thirty years have passed since then, the Municipality has refused to issue building permits or approve existing construction, except in isolated cases. Choking development of the neighborhood is a typical example of the Municipality’s planning and building policy in East Jerusalem since 1967.

This policy is especially problematic in that, in Silwan, plans are being advanced to develop the compound run by the settler non-profit societies Elad and Ateret Cohanim, and build the City of David National Garden, operated by Elad, which is being constructed between Palestinian houses surrounding al-Bustan. In addition, these societies are building institutions and parking lots, and archeological excavations are taking place close to Palestinian houses in Silwan. Also, the Municipality has refrained from sealing a seven-story structure that Ateret Cohanim built in Silwan without a permit.

The plan to demolish houses in al-Bustan denies its residents the right to housing, which is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living as defined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying state to destroy the property of residents of occupied territory, who benefit from the status of protected persons, “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military actions.” The Convention further states that “extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” constitute a grave breach of the Convention.

Source: B’Tselem

Israelis, Internationals Take Action Against Silwan Demolitions

Take Action Against Silwan Demolitions. (June 26, 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

Palestine Monitor, 26 June 2010
Hundreds of Israelis joined Palestinians and international peace activists in the streets of Silwan, East Jerusalem yesterday in protest against the decision to destroy 22 Palestinian homes. The historic show of support coincides with UN and US condemnation of the Municipality‘s provocative scheme. Written by Michael Carpenter. Photography by Rebecca Fudala.

Take Action Against Silwan Demolitions. (June 26, 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

Take Action Against Silwan Demolitions. (June 26, 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

“The state of Israel has taken a bad path in the last several decades, and we are here to say that not all Israelis support it.” Said Shira Wilkof, one of seven principle organisers of the Israeli-led protests in Sheikh Jarrah. This week they lent their support to the people of Silwan. Speaking just before the march began, she explained, “This is going to be one of the biggest demonstrations in one of the most sensitive and complex neighbourhoods where I would say some of the most evil occupation is taking place. For me, this is an historic event, because Israelis do not come to these areas, and today we expect between four and five hundred.”

Estimates say at least 500 protesters joined the march. As the demonstrators passed, Palestinians cheered from their windows and balconies.

Under international law, East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians, but the since the 1967 war, Israel has occupied the city and conducted an illegal campaign of transferring its own population onto the Palestinian side.

Hajj Fahkri Abu Diab, head of the popular committee of Silwan.

Hajj Fahkri Abu Diab, head of the popular committee of Silwan.

Silwan residents. The baby’s shirt reads ’I love you Silwan’.

Silwan residents. The baby’s shirt reads ’I love you Silwan’.

The IDF monitor proceedings.

The IDF monitor proceedings.

Silwan is a particularly contentious area of East Jerusalem, because the beautiful valley neighbourhood lies just south of the old city and on top of the ancient remains of the 3000-year old city of David. Jewish development companies have wedged settlers into the Palestinian neighbourhood and funded archaeological digging where Palestinian buildings once stood. Earlier this week, after several years of controversy, the city formally approved an incendiary plan to raze 22 homes in the el-Bustan block of Silwan to make way for tourist sites and urban development.

Settlers observe from a distance.

Settlers observe from a distance.

Local Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, with international support, hope to reverse the decision. The event was a success by both its size and peaceful nature, but this does not mean the houses of Silwan will be saved.

“I have no expectations or hope from the current government or the municipality,” Shira says sadly. Referring more broadly to the last few decades, she laments, “Its basically a collective suicide what we’re doing. Its like Barbara Tuchman’s famous book The March of Folly. She analysed the causes of the first World War, and she analysed the stupid actions taken by governments that led to the inevitability of destruction.”

Israeli Pirate Flag Silwan - (June 26 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

Silwan - Palestine Flag  (June 26 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

Silwan - Palestine Flag (June 26 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

Children spread the message. (June 26 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

Children spread the message. (June 26 2010, Rebecca Fudala)

Read more about house demolitions here http://www.icahd.org/eng/

Source: Palestine Monitor

Friday demonstrations in East Jerusalem to focus on Silwan

Marian Houk, 25 June 2010

IT’s too much!

Weekly Friday demonstrations have been held since last autumn, focussing on the serial eviction of Palestinian refugee families from UNRWA-built homes (28 are targetted) who are replaced by Israeli settlers who say their aim is to restore a pre-1948 Jewish presence in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, north of the Old City. The Sheikh Jarrah effort is occuring around a tomb said to be of Simon the Just (Shimon Hatzadik), High Priest in the Second Jewish Temple, that has became a focus of Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage in the past decade, and the plan is to clear away the Palestinian homes and build a housing complex for 200 Jewish families.

This Friday, however, the weekly demonstration will be re-focussed on the situation in Silwan — completely on the other [southern] side of the Old City of East Jerusalem — where 88 houses have been under threat of demolition for the past couple of years, mostly for having been built without proper permits, and where a seven-story building (also built without proper permits, in an area where two stories are the current maximum permitted, with a future possibility of four) draped in an Israeli flag banner, towers over the Palestinian neighborhood, inhabited by Jewish religious families under organized private and publicly-funded security protection.

At the beginning of the week, the Jerusalem municipal planning committee refused to hear a counter-proposal from Palestinian residents, and went ahead to approve a plan pushed by the Mayor, Nir Barkat, to demolish 22 of the 88 Palestinian homes and construct a “King’s Garden” [Gan Hamelech] tourism center in the Al-Bustan [garden or park] area of Silwan. It caused an uproar.

U.S. State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley said it “undermines trust”. The State Department also said that “The United States has made clear that it disagrees with some Israeli practices in Jerusalem affecting Palestinians in areas such as housing, including evictions and demolitions”.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, on a visit to the U.S., criticized the “timing” and said the Jerusalem committee showed a “lack of common sense”.

A Jerusalem municipal spokesperson then accused Barak of speaking without “checking the facts first”.

The city said that the 66 other homes slated for destruction would be approved retroactively, and that it would help residents of the 22 homes due for demolition to move to other areas of Silwan [but it was not clear whether this promised assistance would be provided before or after the demolitions -- and precedents suggest the possibility that the assistance may never materialize at all].

The plan still has to advance to a Regional Planning Commission that is run by the Israeli Ministry of Interior [and there are apparently two more stages in the municipal planning committee it must pass through first].

The Meretz representatives on the municipal council defied a warning from the Mayor not to submit a vote of no-confidence, and were subsequently ejected by the Mayor from the municipal coalition.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Jerusalem District Court rejected an appeal from the settler organization Ateret Cohanim against sealing the seven-story settler building [Beit Yehonatan, apparently named for Jonathan Pollard] which was ordered evacuated nine month ago. The Mayor of Jerusalem has not enforced the evacuation order (saying he feared it might lead to clashes), despite a strong stand taken by the Jerusalem legal adviser, Yossi Havilio.

Israeli activists say they are waiting to see if the Municipality will now carry out the court decision regarding Beit Yonathan, and they want the counter-proposal of the Palestinian residents to be given real consideration.

But, the Israeli activists have generally been less outspoken on repressive Israeli police measures against Palestinians in Silwan (and in other areas as well).

  • Marian Houk, a writer, reporter, journalist and analyst with long experience at the United Nations — in New York and in Geneva and more — as well as with the Middle East. She has reported on, and for a time also worked for, the United Nations. She is a former President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY (1986), and is currently based in Jerusalem.
  • Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site.

Birkat Goes It Alone: Silwan The Target For Ethnic Cleansing

Village of Silwan below Mount Zion (Wiki: Gilabrand)

Palestine Monitor,. 23 June 2010

Village of Silwan below Mount Zion (Wiki: Gilabrand)

Village of Silwan below Mount Zion (Wiki: Gilabrand)

From Cast Lead to the Mavi Marmara, few states have displayed Israel’s commitment to unilateral action. A unique ability to deflect external criticism has allowed successive administrations to advance Israel’s expansionist interests. A microcosm can be glimpsed in Jerusalem, where Mayor Nir Birkat’s intention to re-develop in Silwan place the Municipality’s glamour project over the rights of residents, the agenda of his government and stillborn proximity talks.

Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem - Wiki Commons

Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem - Wiki Commons

Far from applauding the nationalist initiative, which would see at least 22 Arab homes demolished to make way for the King David Gardens, Defence Minister Ehud Barak condemned a “lack of common sense and sense of timing”. The US State Department concurred that the move “undermined trust” ahead of proximity talks. The notional objectives of both are undermined by Monday‘s announcement. The Israeli Government have stepped up diplomacy efforts in an attempt to repair their shattered image following the flotilla massacre, while the Whitehouse is losing credibility as US-sponsored talks continue to founder. Alluding to the declaration in March, coinciding with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, that 1,600 new settlement homes would be built in Arab East Jerusalem, Barak lamented that it was “not the first time” the Municipality had embarrassed the nation and its main sponsors.

The Municipality response has been robust. Senior Mayor’s Aide Stephan Miller told us the criticisms are of “no concern”, while a mayor’s office statement claimed the “defence minister acts without checking the facts”. The statement goes on to claim the work is essential to restore a run-down area delivering little to the city’s economy.

The so-called  Silwan District Development Plan does not only target Al Bustan but also the Batn Al Hawa neighborhood and 11555 project which effects mostly Wadi Hilweh neighbourhood. The repercussions are immensely detrimental to the community (Photo: silwanic.net)

The so-called Silwan District Development Plan does not only target Al Bustan but also the Batn Al Hawa neighborhood and 11555 project which effects mostly Wadi Hilweh neighbourhood. The repercussions are immensely detrimental to the community (Photo: silwanic.net)

The plans for re-development of Silwan were first mooted in March, but government pressure saw them shelved as too inflammatory. Since then Birkat has been corralling support, including a tour of Washington in which he hosted a Q & A dinner party for influential journalists. Known as a highly driven businessman and entrepreneur, his vision for the King David Gardens is central to a “fundamental commitment and responsibility to preserve and safeguard Jerusalem, its landscapes and vistas, and historic and scenic sites for the sake of future generations.”

Arab leaders fear this new city is envisaged without them in it. Islamic Supreme Committee head Ekrima Sabri last year accused the mayor of “conducting a war against Palestinians”, following a spate of evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Birkat has presided over a rapid acceleration in revoking residency permits for Palestinians, as well as an increase in settler numbers in the future Palestinian capital. Today there are around 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem, slightly fewer than in the whole of the West Bank. The Municipality claim residents of the 22 homes slated for demolition will be re-housed in “new, legal buildings”, but would not reveal details. Similar promises have been made without fulfilment to displaced families in Sheikh Jarrah.

Opposition to Birkat’s plan has not been limited to external parties. The left-wing Maretz faction of his ruling coalition submitted a vote of no confidence, claiming “Jerusalem is too explosively charged” and warning of “devastating political consequences”. As a result all Maretz representatives have been stripped of their portfolios and salaries, including Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalo. The secular Mayor will now share power with more religious, Haredi parties, an arrangement guaranteed to beget more friction. Maretz spokesman Ido Porat explained his party’s concern over the move, “we think you do not resolve the problem by destroying people’s houses. This way you destroy trust and increase separation.” Porat disputes the Mayor’s claim that the homes were built illegally, “Israel never allows them to build through their beaurocracy. The laws are against Palestinians.”

That is certainly the feeling in Silwan, where the inhabitants told us of constant harassment and persecution. Muhammad Rajabi, a 23-year-old hospital worker, believes the Municipality are pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing. “They do not want peace. They want all of Jerusalem. They occupy it with soldiers, settlers, parking lots, gardens, history parks, anything but Palestinians. There are 1500 people in Bustan. It is more than just houses. This is our history. This is not Israel. This is Palestinian land, that they took in 1967. Why do I need a permit from Israel to live in my home in Palestine?”

Silwan and Al-Thori neighborhood 16 June 2010 (Photo:silwanic.net)

Silwan and Al-Thori neighborhood 16 June 2010 (Photo:silwanic.net)

In addition to the 22 structures scheduled for demolition, the mayor’s office claim a further 66 that were previously targeted, will now be given retroactive permits. Hajj Fahkri Abu Diab of the Popular Committee for Silwan is not convinced. “We cannot believe them. They say only 22 homes, but they are lying. Our engineers and lawyers know the plans and the details, and they say it is for all 88 homes, not 22. If they can give permits why do they wait? They should give permits now before they demolish. We pay taxes and they promise us clean roads and schools. But we have no clean roads and our children cannot go to school. How can we believe them?” If all 88 homes are demolished around 1000 residents will be displaced.

The Mayor’s Office insist the plans are yet to be finalised. “There are two more stages of the Local Planning Committee before it is then brought to the District Planning Committee”, Stephan Miller told us. But damage has already been done. The only unity can be found in the divisions; between Jerusalem’s political parties, between Municipality and Israeli Government, between Israel and the USA. All represent barriers to the embryonic peace process, now seemingly destined to further stagnation. But feuding politicians will not foot the bill for their failures, instead the price will be paid by displaced families in Silwan.

Read more from the Wadi Hilwah Information Centre http://silwanic.net/

Jerusalem Mayor To Raze Silwan Homes And Peace Process

Bulldozers are a common sight in Silwan Photo: Michael Carpenter

Palestine Monitor, 22 June 2010

On Monday, the Jerusalem Municipality approved plans for the expansion of an archaeological site beneath the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. The controversial plan would see up to 88 homes in occupied East Jerusalem bulldozed. Michael Carpenter spoke to Silwan residents.

Children watch an Israeli military jeep pass through Silwan.     Photo: Michael Carpenter

Children watch an Israeli military jeep pass through Silwan. Photo: Michael CarpenterChildren watch an Israeli military jeep pass through Silwan. Photo: Michael Carpenter

The move met with unprecedented condemnation from the US State Department, Israeli peace groups and even Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who accused the planning committee of a “lack of common sense and sense of timing”. Timing has never been a strong point of Municipality Mayor Nir Barkat, who in March waited for Vice-President Joe Biden’s arrival before announcing 1,600 new homes for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem. With Israel under increasing pressure following the flotilla massacre and fledgling peace talks yet to begin in earnest, Jerusalem’s unilateral announcement has exposed Israel to new criticism over their commitment to a peace agreement.

“Israel is telling us they are above the law,” said Hajj Fahkri Abu Diab of the Popular Committee for Silwan. “They don’t want peace because they don’t need peace. We want the people of the world to know that this is not justice. They are not just demolishing homes, they are demolishing lives and families.”

Bulldozers are a common sight in Silwan     Photo: Michael Carpenter

Bulldozers are a common sight in Silwan Photo: Michael Carpenter

According to Monday’s announcement, 22 of the 88 homes in the El-Bustan block of Silwan have been formally approved for demolition. The Municipality claim residents will be re-housed in the West of the city, although they have refused to give details as yet.

The Palestinian neighbourhood has the misfortune of resting on the ancient site of the City of David, just south of Jerusalem’s old city. The Israel organisation ELAD, which funds archaeological development and supports Jewish settlement in the area, has been pressing the Municipality to implement a plan that would replace 88 homes and more than a 1000 Palestinian residents with a historical garden and tourism centre. In a ’compromise’ the city has formally approved the demolition of 22 homes, pledging that the remaining 66 will then be allowed to obtain legal and permanent permits.

Fahkri fears the worst, “We cannot believe them. They say only 22 homes, but they are lying. Our engineers and lawyers know the plans and the details, and they say it is for all 88 homes, not 22.” The committee will discuss this claim at a press conference in Silwan tomorrow. “If they can give permits why do they wait?” Fahkri continues, “they should give permits now before they demolish. We pay taxes and they promise us clean roads and schools. But we have no clean roads and our children cannot go to school. How can we believe them?”

Remains of a previously bulldozed house in Bustan     Photo: Rebecca Fudala

Remains of a previously bulldozed house in Bustan Photo: Rebecca Fudala

The Popular Committee will contact government leaders and representatives around the world to put pressure on Israel. In addition, they plan to maintain a large presence in committee’s tent around the clock, and are inviting all the resident of Bustan to join them on Fridays.

Not far from the committee’s tent is the home of Yacub Rechek, his wife Umm Yusef, and their seven children. It is not yet clear if their house is included in the targeted list of 22. “If they destroy our home, we have no where to go,” says Yusef. “We will be in the street.”

Yusef explains the nightly terror of harassment from Israeli soldiers, usually between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.. She says that soldiers come into the narrow walkways between homes, climb over fences into the yards and bang on the doors of their homes. They ask countless questions about the people living there: how many there are, their names, ages, whether they are terrorists, where are the terrorists.

“Every night they come. Not sometimes. Every night. And they take boys away for the night, 12 or 13 years old. They ask many questions and hurt them, they make them say things that they didn’t do, and the boys are terrified. They do it to make them afraid, to make them weak, to make them want to leave.”

The narrow pathways between the homes of Bustan block in Silwan.     Photo: Rebecca Fudala

The narrow pathways between the homes of Bustan block in Silwan. Photo: Rebecca Fudala

Umm Yuself shares a harrowing story about a visit by a man from the Municipality in 2008. “Smiling like it was a joke, he said, ’You will be happy if you leave. We will make gardens here for you and your family to see.’ When my husband heard this, he came out, and the man told him, ’You will destroy this house yourself. Not us. You will destroy this house by your own hands.’ My husband built this house himself. He made everything himself. After, he said, ’I can’t see them destroy my house. If they do, they will destroy me.’ That day, he had a heart attack. After midnight, the neighbours came and took him to the hospital. The doctors said that he almost died. Now his heart is weak and he must take medicine all the time.” Yacub is 41 years old.

The family has a message for the world. “You hear that we are terrorists, but we believe in God, and we just want peace for our children. If you support us and protect our children, we will respect you. If you make pressure on Israel, we will stay in our houses. We don’t hate the Jewish people. We hate what they do. They kill our children, destroy our houses and take our land. They don’t treat us like human beings. They will destroy the future of these children.”

Few residents in the area believe Israel wants peace. Muhammad Rajabi, a 23-year-old hospital worker, says “Israel slaps us in the face and says we hurt their hand. They do not want peace. They want all of Jerusalem. They occupy it with soldiers, settlers, parking lots, gardens, history parks, anything but Palestinians. There are 1500 people in Bustan. It is more than just houses. This is our history. This is not Israel. This is Palestinian land, that they took in 1967. Why do I need a permit from Israel to live in my home in Palestine?”

Umm Yusef and her eldest son in their home, threatened with demolition.     Photo: Rebecca Fudala

Umm Yusef and her eldest son in their home, threatened with demolition. Photo: Rebecca Fudala

Red Crescent worker Mai also questions Israel’s motives and is concerned about the long term effects of occupation. “It seems that Israel don’t want peace, or they would not do this. The people here have many problems. They love life, and they have dreams, like any people in the world. But they have a conflict in their minds. They want to live their lives like civilians, like everybody else, but they also want to stop what is happening. They have this conflict. Should they just live their lives like normal, or should they try to resist?”

“Our concern is not toward the Jewish people,” Mai says, echoing the views of Umm Yusef. “Our concern is toward the soldiers and the Ministry of Israel. Let the people here live their lives peacefully.”

Plans for the demolition have delayed once before, but unless the Whitehouse, Knesset and resident groups can make their influence tangible, the new peace process could be over before it begins.

Learn more about Silwan’s troubles here